As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, an unmanageable outbreak in Afghanistan will likely cripple an already fragile healthcare and education system.

Several decades of conflict and political infighting has provoked an economically and politically unstable system in Afghanistan, with the country’s health and education structures being among the most acutely impacted. COVID-19 aside, the nation has some of the highest rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, heart disease and malnutrition in the world, which already significantly burdens the existing healthcare system.

Afghanistan’s neighbour, Iran has become a global epicenter for COVID-19, Neighbouring with over 80,000 confirmed cases and 5,000 reported deaths. As of April 20th, Afghanistan has reported just under 1,000 cases nationwide, and 32 deaths.

However, with over 200,000 Afghan refugees crossing the border back into Afghanistan from infected areas of Iran, the actual number of infected cases is likely much higher.

Due to a lack of preventative measures such as border disease control, quarantine processes and COVID-19 testing, it is difficult to predict the real and likely devastating extent of the virus in Afghanistan.

As a step to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Afghan government has closed all schools and universities. Prior to the pandemic, the country’s education system had been devastated by more than three decades of conflict, with children in rural areas and girls disproportionately not attending school.

While enrolment rates have been steadily increasing over the past two decades, attendance continues to be far from ideal. There are many hurdles Afghan children face that prevent them from going to school, including geographical barriers, poor sanitation facilities for girls, socio-cultural factors, armed conflict and the overarching incidence of extreme poverty. However, today children are facing one common barrier; with no physical school to attend, they are simply not receiving an education. 

As attendance rates plummet to zero, the human rights of millions of Afghan school children are currently in the balance. With no official home-school alternative set up, children are being utilised as productive members of society.

At the extreme end, citizens are witnessing an increase in child beggars, a devastating occurrence that has been heightened since schools closed. Not only do children on the streets pose a significant health threat to an entire population, it also highlights the reversal of steps forward made in the past two decades. 

Education is not only a human right for all children, but an economic necessity.

Mahboba’s Promise is a not-for-profit organisation that has been working in Afghanistan since 1998. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, they are working towards developing a home-school kit for students who are not receiving an education.

It is unknown when the novel coronavirus will spare the world, therefore it is imperative children in Afghanistan are adapting to the current situation and continue their learning from home. 

The fasting month of Ramadan could not have come at a more urgent time.

Learn more about how you can give an Afghan child a home-school kit by visiting https://mahbobaspromise.org/ramadan-2020/.